How to make dining at a restaurant a little safer

Restaurants pose some unique risks.

The new coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 infection, is spread mainly via respiratory droplets that people expel when coughing or sneezing. So wearing a mask is one of a few important public health behaviors we can take right now that drastically reduces the chances of spreading the coronavirus—especially if you’re in close proximity with another person for more than a few minutes.

However, at a restaurant, you won’t be wearing a mask while you’re eating, nor will other patrons. And you’ll be sitting very near the people you’re going out with. That means you likely won’t be able to maintain two of our most useful precautions—social distancing and wearing a mask—while dining at a restaurant. With what we know about COVID-19 in mind, a restaurant may create some unique opportunities for the virus to spread.

Therefore, the first step in going out to eat (or going anywhere in public, really) is deciding how essential this activity is to you, Lindsey Gottlieb, M.D., director of infection prevention at Mount Sinai Morningside, tells SELF. Is it worth the risk to you, personally? Is it worth the risks to those you live with, the other customers at the restaurant, and the employees? For some people, going to a restaurant may have real emotional or mental health benefits, and they may decide that it’s something they still want to do. But for others, takeout or delivery is just fine.

If you’re planning to eat out, follow the usual measures for protecting yourself and others ― wear a mask, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing and stay home if you’re sick or in a high risk group for contracting COVID-19.

The health experts we spoke to also recommend these tips to make the experience safer:

  • Make sure tables are spaced out. The CDC suggests seating should be at least 6 feet apart — and that includes bar seating.
  • Try to witness surfaces being cleaned. Coronavirus particles can stay on surfaces. If particles end up on your hands and you touch your face, it might transmit the virus.
  • Leave if you’re uncomfortable. If anything makes you feel uneasy, it’s probably best to head home.
  • Avoid touching reusable menus, especially plastic ones, unless they’ve been cleaned and disinfected. They could carry pathogens and potentially transmit the virus (and other illnesses).
  • Stay away from multiuse items, like a touch screen ordering system, unless you can be sure it’s cleaned and disinfected after each use.
  • Visit at off-peak times so the restaurant is less crowded.
  • Don’t stay for too long, especially if you’re dining inside.

Outdoor dining is safer than indoor, but still risky

Throughout the summer, when the number of COVID-19 cases was waning, many restaurants had been able to reopen by creating outdoor seating areas, and requiring mask wearing and physical distancing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, taking no precautions would be the riskiest move for restaurants.

Indoor seating with tables spaced 6 feet apart or outdoor seating with no spacing is a somewhat better arrangement.

Outdoor seating with at least 6 feet between tables, as well as drive-thru, delivery, takeout, and curbside pickup services are even safer.

The safest option is to offer only drive-thu, delivery, takeout, and curbside pickup.

So, while outdoor dining is better than indoor, it’s not completely without risk.